Aubrey holds a PhD in English and has published many articles on twentieth-century literature. In this essay, he discusses the play in the context of jury behavior, the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, and the inadequacy of defense counsel in many capital cases in the United States.
There must be many playgoers or moviegoers who come away from a performance or showing of Twelve Angry Men filled with images of themselves acting as the heroic Juror Eight. They, too, when their time came, would be calm and rational in the jury room and motivated only by a desire for justice, and they would gradually, through their integrity and persistence, persuade the other eleven jurors to adopt their viewpoint. It is, of course, natural for the audience to identify with the hero, but people may not realize that this aspect of Twelve Angry Men, in which one juror persuades eleven others to change their positions, is fiction, not reality. The truth is that in real life, no one would be able to act out the admirable role of Henry Fonda (or Jack Lemmon, who played Juror Eight in the 1997 remake of the movie).
The dynamics of group behavior simply do not work that way. In the 1950s, a study of 255 trials by the Chicago Jury Project turned up no examples of such an occurrence. The study, in which microphones were placed in the jury room to record deliberations, found that 30 percent of cases were decided, either for conviction or...
(The entire section is 1773 words.)
Thomas J. Harris
In the following essay, Harris provides an overview of the plot and characters in the film version of Twelve Angry Men, taking issue with Juror 8's omniscience and some of the story's simplistic philosophies, but praising it as "exhilarating drama."
An Orion/Nova Production, released through United Artists, 1957. Coproducers: Henry Fonda and Reginald Rose. Director: Sidney Lumet. Story and Screenplay: Reginald Rose. Director of Photography: Boris Kaufman, A.S.C. Editor: Carl Lerner. Art Director: Robert Markell. Music: Kenyon Hopkins. Assistant Producer: George Justin. Assistant Director: Donald Kranze. Operative Cameraman: Saul Midwall. Sound: James A. Gleason. Script Supervisor: Faith Elliott. Makeup: Herman Buchman. Black-and-white. Running time: 96 minutes.
Cast: Henry Fonda (Juror 8), Lee J. Cobb (Juror 3), Ed Begley (Juror 10), E. G. Marshall (Juror 4), Jack Warden (Juror 7), Martin Balsam (Juror 1), John Fiedler (Juror 2), Jack Klugman (Juror 5), Joseph Sweeney (Juror 9), Edward Binns (Juror 6), George Voskovec (Juror 11), Robert Webber (Juror 12), Rudy Bond (Judge), James A. Kelly (Guard), Bill Nelson (Court Clerk), John Savoca (Defendant).
It is convenient that the first chapter of this book on courtroom cinema should center on the most pivotal aspect of a trial—the jury: with a thorough understanding of its intricacies, the reader will be able to appreciate better the...
(The entire section is 5970 words.)
In the following review of the original movie version of Twelve Angry Men, Alpert asserts that the story "pins too much faith on the presence … of the open-minded man," but calls it "a tight, absorbing drama," nonetheless.
Henry Fonda has a most reassuring face. Something about the set of the jaw, the leanness of the cheeks, the moodiness of the eyes, inspires respect and confidence. The parts he has played in films and on the stage have made him close to an American symbol of the unbiased, uncorrupted man, and he is just about perfect for the role of Juror #8 in Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men. Fonda, in this study of a jury's intimate deliberations, must stand alone, at first, against eleven men who are convinced that a tough boy of the slums has killed his father. They're ready, all except Juror #8, to wrap up the case, send the boy to the chair, and then go home and forget about it. Out of this situation Reginald Rose makes a tight, absorbing drama.
One of the jurors is anxious to get it over with and get on to the ballgame; another remembers a boy of his own, who at just about the same age escaped his authority; a third is a crowd-pleaser—he wants to be part of the majority; and a fourth is a man of reason who has added up all the evidence in his own mind and has found no reasonable doubt of the boy's guilt. If Twelve Angry Men does nothing else, it reminds us, like a catechism, of the function and...
(The entire section is 702 words.)